A new year doesn't mean a new beginning for your company or individual online reputation, because as most are acutely aware, online reputation is built and maintained over time. But a new year does bring a new focus to the field of online reputation management - and in turn this will affect individuals and companies concerned with such issues.

1. Communication With Customers Will Be Key.

We no longer live in a world where a company puts out an ad or launches a new brand campaign, and they must wait for extensive research or focus groups to find out its perception or impact. Companies can quickly find out how their company's reputation and image are being received by listening to what consumers have to say on public channels. Review sites, social media, Google searches and the company's own website, as well as independent sites formed to support or rebuke the company, can all serve as outlets for hearing from - and communicating back with consumers.

2. Social Media's Piece Of The Online Reputation Pie Will Grow Ever Larger.

Many of these important conversations with consumers in the next year and beyond are likely to take place through social media venues, whether through public posts such as those on Facebook walls or less public means in the likes of private Twitter messages. When a consumer posts a complaint or concern, or even praise, on a company's wall, it matters to that individual consumer and any other consumer visiting the page that the company respond, or indicate they plan to respond privately if a response is needed at all. The relationships forged with consumers on social media channels will be key next year in terms of managing a company's brand and image both online and off.

3. Accountability Can Do Wonders For A Company's Reputation.

An important part of engaging in conversations with consumers and conducting a business through social media is the accountability it brings to a company's actions. Owning up to mistakes and thanking customers for their both their praise and critiques on a public forum indicates to both present customers and future clients that a company has an active stake in its reputation and intends to protect it, but is also willing to take blame for when things go wrong.

As the world of online reputation - and the world online in general - continues to evolve over the next year, companies and executives can continue to rely on similar principles and strategies for conduct that have guided them successfully in the past. These and other emerging areas of emphasis in reputation management will just help companies evolve their strategies to succeed going forward.

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